In Finland the term “ruska” is used to describe the explosion of colour associated with the forests’ changing foliage. It takes place from mid to late September, meaning that shoulder season here makes for a captivating break, with activities ranging from exploring national parks to witnessing the northern lights reflected off the surface of the lakes.
Caroline Stanton, sales and marketing manager at Visit Finland, said autumn was ideal for intrepid clients keen to experience the outdoors before the “big freeze”.
“At Lake Saimaa, clients have the sauna and wellness offerings, the chance to speed along mountain trails at Hossa on a fatbike, or go mushroom picking in the Oulanka national park,” she said.
Other popular activities include fishing, canoeing and hiking. Stanton suggests clients check out the 76-mile UKK trail that runs across Finland, through the municipalities of Salla and Savukoski.
For a more accessible hike, the Urho Kekkonen national park offers bookable huts for overnight stays, saunas and vistas populated with grouse, reindeer and lemmings.
Although the northern lights are associated with winter trips to Lapland, Stanton explained that it was during ruska that clients would have the most “breathtaking” experience when viewing them.
“Because the lakes haven’t frozen yet, you get amazing reflections off their surface that create a stunning double aurora,” she said.
Foraging is a popular pastime during ruska too, and in Finland’s forests the everyman’s rights law means visitors can freely pick the blueberries and lingonberries (similar to cranberries) that grow in abundance.
Reaching the Finnish national parks is easy, explained Stanton, pointing to the “fast and efficient” trains that operate from Helsinki. Alternatively, clients can fly direct to Rovaniemi in Lapland with Norwegian and easyJet.
Meanwhile, Finnair operates five daily flights from Heathrow to the Finnish capital, including a double-daily route from Manchester, nine flights a week from Edinburgh and 10 weekly flights from Dublin.
The airline has also added 230 new winter flights to Lapland for 2018, commencing December 13 from Gatwick on Thursdays and Sundays to Ivalo, and Sunday to Kittila.
Bolstered air links have facilitated strong performance from the UK market, explained Stanton.
In 2017, 585,800 overnight stays from the UK market were recorded between January and June – a 17% year-on-year increase. This year the tourist board has seen a 4% rise in overnight winter stays.
Stanton said the next step would be working more closely with cultural operators in the UK to build itineraries that showcase Finland as a year-round destination, adding: “We’re also in talks with the mainstream operators to develop the lakes and mountain product. We want to show the UK market that Finland isn’t just for a winter break. We have a big summer strategy and fam trips running with Visit Finland and Finnair for 2019.”